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How to make a pothole claim

It sometimes seems like you can’t go further than a few yards down the road without smacking into a pothole. Potholes are a frustration for every driver. They’re invariably positioned where you can’t avoid them because a car’s passing. Or, more likely, because it’s been raining and you mistake them for puddles.

A car next to a pothole

The good news is if your tyres burst, your exhaust drops or your suspension fails you could be entitled to pothole compensation. Here’s all you need to know about pothole claims.


What is a pothole?

Sounds like a silly question, but it’s not, because potholes are usually defined by their depth.

Most councils classify a pit in the road as a pothole only if it’s 40mm, around one and a half inches, deep and 300m wide (just under a foot).

If the hole has smaller dimensions than this it’ll probably be classified as a ‘carriageway defect’, which is the same thing, just under a different name.

The Asphalt industry Alliance reckons the number of potholes in the UK has gone up by 200,000 to 1.7 million in 2020-2021. This means more drivers are suffering from pothole damage. 

Find out more about the true depth of the UK’s pothole problem.


Who’s responsible for pothole damage to my car?

Local authorities have a responsibility to maintain roads in their jurisdiction. 

English local authorities alone get a share of £500 million to fix potholes, which is enough money to fix 10 million potholes.

This is far more than there actually are, but as the cash was only released in February 2021, let’s give them time.

It’s worth bearing in mind that roads that cross several jurisdictions, such as motorways and A-roads, come under the charge of the following:

If your car is damaged as a result of running over a pothole, your local authority or one of the four national authorities could be liable.

If, however, your car is damaged due to other debris on the road, you aren’t entitled to compensation. For this, you’d need to make a claim on your car insurance policy.


How do I make a pothole claim? 

In order to make a successful pothole claim, you’ll need to show evidence of pothole damage to your car. Here’s what you need to do: 

  • Check the damage caused by the pothole
  • Gather evidence
  • Report the pothole
  • Get repair quotes
  • Submit your pothole claim

1. Check the damage caused by the pothole

The damage caused by driving over a pothole often depends on the speed you were travelling. The faster you were driving, the greater the potential damage. As soon as you are aware that a pothole may have damaged your car, find a safe place to pull over.

See if there’s any visible pothole damage to your wheels and tyres. While you’re driving you also need to pay attention to whether the car is making any vibrations, how the steering feels and whether the car is veering to one side. If there are any problems get your car to a garage or tyre centre as soon as possible.

2. Gather evidence

You also need to show the local authority pictures of the pothole - if you’re returning after the incident to take photos, bring a measuring tape and use that to show its size. If that’s not an option, placing an everyday object you have to hand like a shoe or bag and including that in the picture can give a good indication of scale. 

It’s also important to make a note of the following:

  • The date and time of the incident
  • Any witnesses and their contact details
  • The location of the pothole on the road
  • The damage incurred to your car.
  • If you subsequently visit a garage and more damage is revealed, note that as well

3. Report the pothole

You need to tell the body responsible for maintaining the road about the pothole. For local roads, B roads and minor A roads that’s likely to be the local authority. To find the right council, use the report a pothole tool on the government website. For more major roads you have to report it to the relevant national authority:

  • Highways England - for motorways and A roads in England
  • Traffic Wales - for motorways and A roads in Wales
  • Traffic Scotland - for major trunk roads in Scotland
  • NI Direct - to report potholes in Northern Ireland

Even if you don’t make a claim or your car isn’t damaged it still makes sense to report potholes.

4. Get repair quotes

Don’t just rock up to the first garage you find and get them to fix the pothole damage on your car. Get quotes from at least three garages, detail records and go with the cheapest. Showing willingness to keep repair costs down could help your claim.

5. Submit your pothole claim

If you’re intent on making a claim for pothole damage, contact the local authority you reported the pothole to. Ideally, write to or call any contact you’ve made.

Make it clear that you’re looking to make a claim for pothole compensation and pass on:

  • A full description of the incident
  • When and where it happened
  • What you’ve done since to address the damage to your car.

Don’t forget to include copies of photos, witness details, quotes and repairs for damage and any other details. Note that your right to pothole compensation has limits. You need to prove that the local authority failed in its duty to maintain the road, in accordance with Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. 


What happens after I’ve made a pothole claim? 

The local authority is under an obligation to respond to any claim lodged with them within 30 days. If they don’t, contact them again via the complaints department. Chances are they‘ll get back to you with one of the following reactions:

  • The authority accepts your claim and covers all your repair expenses. It probably won’t stretch to additional expenses such as alternative transport while your car is out of action.
  • The authority offers a partial settlement.
  • The authority rejects the claim in its entirety.

If the local authority offers a partial settlement don’t balk at coming back with a counter argument.

Reaffirm the costs you’ve incurred directly as a result of the incident, and show again that you’ve shopped around for the cheapest repairs.


What if my pothole claim is rejected?

If the damage to your car is little more than a burst tyre, you could take the hit and chalk it up to experience.

But if your catalytic convertor was scrapped, or the undercarriage rendered irreparable, the costs involved are likely to be high enough to warrant further consideration.

Taking the authority to small claims court is an option. It’s not cheap, but it’s an option.

Incidentally, if you’re suspicious, put in a Freedom of Information Act request to establish whether the council actually inspected the site. They’re required to do so, but might not have.

If the court route doesn’t appeal – and it can be pricey if you use a lawyer and lose – you could claim on your car insurance policy.

Note this would likely be considered an ‘at-fault’ claim, and most likely have a knock-on effect on your no-claims discount and future premiums.


When can’t I claim for pothole damage?

Unfortunately your claim for pothole damage is likely to be rejected if it was actually the result of debris on the road. Or if the pit in the road was not large enough to be considered a pothole.

You might, however, still be able to claim on your car insurance. But if the damage is only minor it might pay to think carefully as your premiums could rise and you could lose any no-claims discount you have built up.

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How likely is it that my pothole claim will be accepted?

The likelihood of your claim being accepted ultimately depends on the strength of your case and the evidence that you present. 

But if you reported the pothole and have evidence that the damage was the result of driving over it, your claim should be accepted. 

You might need to be patient though, with some claims taking months. You might also need to be persistent if you’re only offered a partial settlement or you think your claim has been incorrectly rejected.